I have a question and I was wondering if you had an answer. Have you ever known anyone to request employee accommodations for their work environment due to a “disability?” I am aware that physical disabilities are easier to prove than mental disabilities. I also know that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) covers both physical and mental disabilities, as long as there is medical documentation that you have been diagnosed present. I do not want to deal with the embarrassment of discussing with my supervisor if accommodations are not an option.
Can you assist?
Email sent, crap…no turning back now.
I was offered an appointment to discuss my requests, so I took the opportunity the following day. I went back and forth with my thoughts that whole night. “Who am I to request accommodations for my so-called ‘disability?’ There are people with real life issues and I am referring to mine as a DISABILITY…I should cancel the appointment. How dare I LABEL myself? I am not weak, I am stronger than this.” I also thought, “I really need help and it is my responsibility to request it. No one else is going to speak out on my behalf, and no one will ever know how burned out I am getting if I do not speak up. If I am able to provide MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION that I am being treated for certain illnesses, then that should be enough to request help, right? This is my time to speak up.”
It was definitely awkward when I began telling my story. OF COURSE you are going to have people in the world that give you their best poker face because they do not want to look judgmental. They also want to make sure you are not an employee who is going to take advantage of the system. I explained to them that I am being treated for Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I told them how I have worked with these issues for many years but I have not been managing well lately. I informed them that I have been seeking therapy on and off for 5 years and that I see a psychiatrist monthly for medication to help regulate my conditions.
I was forced to disarm myself and show my flesh to two people I had just met. This was my one and only chance to request assistance. I had to remind myself that I, too, am protected by the ADA…so I pretty much WORD VOMITED on their table in the most professional manner possible. I had been dying to talk to someone at work about this. I spoke about what I am being treated for, how I am pressured to perform my job to the best of my ability, and how I am getting burned out because I never have any down time. I told them how 30 minutes does not allow me enough time with my clients, and how time constraints have always been a trigger for my anxiety. I explained how the block time I have scheduled is not enough to answer all emails and take notes on the clients I have seen for the day. I have a counterpart who is older than me and can easily take 11 appointments a day with no break! I am constantly feeling the pressure to perform just as well because I am younger and I physically cannot do it.
I explained my realistic concerns about it being out of the question to request another counselor, and that I am requesting to be accommodated so that I do not experience burnout. My office is right near the secretary desk, so I constantly hear clients complaining that they cannot get an appointment with me right away. I hear them complaining when they are forced to reschedule because they showed up 10-15 minutes late. I hear them get irate with our secretary, creating pressure for her…but also creating pressure for me. I never feel comfortable taking a sick day, I never feel comfortable asking students to reschedule. I am basically forced to be a soft butterball who wants to help everyone and give everyone their way…even when they make mistakes. I requested to move to the office down the hall, and/or be allowed to use a sound machine. I will take whatever they give me, I just need some quiet in order to get my work done and have time for the other projects that get assigned to me. I am not afraid to put my foot down with my clients, but I cannot fathom going home sick one day and forcing 10 clients to reschedule the appointment they have waited two weeks to get in the first place. They will now have to wait 2 more weeks because I am booked. I have no backup right now, and my counterpart has been slowly backing out of helping me because she has been putting her clients first, (which is understandable). I am dealing with more clients, more issues, and more pressure with less time, less help and a mental illness or two on the side. I need help, I hope that is not too much to ask.
I spoke about the pressure as an institution to make our numbers, and how my counterpart will stay to 7pm in order to get all of her work completed. If we stay late we are expected to come in later the next day, but it is impossible to come in later if I have appointments booked for the next day. It is not realistic.
I explained that I did not feel comfortable speaking to my supervisors about my condition up front because of all that has been going on in the world. Society is now examining the importance of mental health because of crimes that are being committed around the United States. Today’s society now feels like they are educated on mental illnesses because of the information they hear on television. People who struggle with mental illnesses are looked at with a side eye, like we can potentially explode any second…and that is not fair. We need help too.
I hope it was okay to say that.
I wanted to be assured that I am protected and will have backup if I need to go home. I get sick, physically sick because of my illness. My immune system is ALWAYS low and I catch everything under the sun. I am a very hard worker, I love my job and I love myself, but my anxiety will not let me go home and make 10 people miss the appointment that they waited two weeks for. Can I please be allowed more time per appointment? Can I drop down to 7 appointments instead of the usual 10? Once again, I hope I am not asking too much, but I cannot do 10-11 appointments a day year-round, on top of the walk-ins that are thrown my way when we are trying to make our numbers.
Then the best thing happened to break the silence on their part; the Executive Director of Human Resources said to me, “Okay. Well, let me ask you this…are you okay as of today?” I responded after a long pause, “As of today…yes, I am okay. I just am doing my best to prevent myself from experiencing burnout.”
…and that is as compassionate as it gets. I did not expect an HR professional to act as a Mental Health professional because that is not her area of expertise; however, this question let me know that she heard everything I said and that she is going to do her best to help me. I cannot expect an HR professional or my supervisors to take care of me, I am not their child. I am responsible to look out for myself and request help when I need it.
To be continued…
When Your Brain Hurts